“Ladies, you will all be sorely missed,” said Mr. Barrymore, looking in turn at Lady Iolana, Lady Esther, and Willa Armice the maid, all of whom wore sturdy traveling clothes.
The entire complement of household staff was lined up to see them off. Some of them were teary-eyed, though a few of them looked more relieved than anything.
“I know, Lady Iolana,” Barrymore continued, “that you will be a great success both as a Professor of Literature and as University President. We trust that you will always look after Lady Esther, and we ask that you look out for our Willa as well.”
Mr. Finley the underbutler stepped forward.
“The staff have a small goodbye gift for each of you.” He handed each of them a decorative box, tied with a bow. “We wish you safe journey.”
“Thank you all,” said Iolana. “I know I haven’t been the easiest person to deal with sometimes…”
“Lady Iolana,” Barrymore started.
“No, you know it’s true. But I trust my mother’s visit last year was enough to remind you all that I am not the most difficult either.”
Barrymore chuckled, and there were a few titters from behind him.
“I know you will all miss Esther,” Iolana continued. “We will both miss all of you. If ever any of you decide to move to Birmisia, I will be happy to pay your passage. In the meantime, your employment here is secure. When Terra gets back, she may want to use the house for guests. Otherwise, I don’t know who might use it. I just know that Augie has said he plans not to sell it.”
She shook hands with Barrymore and walked briskly to the door. Esther hugged Barrymore and then Finley, before following, with Willa in her wake. Courtney, one of the young men, was waiting outside in the steam carriage, a second vehicle was ready to follow, filled with two dozen suitcases and steamer trunks.
“Do you think the airship will be able to get off the ground with all your luggage aboard?” Esther asked Iolana.
“If it can’t,” said Willa, “then I don’t want to fly in it.”
“Well said,” commented Iolana. “In any case, we are in good hands. There hasn’t been a major airship accident in almost thirty years. We’ll have two weeks of sailing through the clouds in luxury. Then, when we get to St. Ulixes, we shall go straight to the train station and get out of that hell hole as quickly as possible.”
“Is it really that bad?” Willa asked Esther.
“I don’t know. I’ve never been.”
“It’s dreadful,” said Iolana.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Birmisia,” said Willa. “It sounds so strange and mysterious.”
“Oh, you won’t be disappointed,” said Esther. “I suppose I’m looking forward to it too. It’s home, after all. I’m going to miss Terra though.”
“We shall arrive before she does,” said Iolana. “We can meet her at the port, and I read that she and Prince Clitus will be there for a month. When she returns to Brechalon, you can always go visit her. I plan on taking a trip to some part of Sumir or another every year during the break in studies. I’m sure that will always include at least a short visit with my short cousin.”
“I’m still marveling that we’re going back,” said Esther. “I guess I didn’t understand how great the attraction of a full professorship was.”
“That was a major draw,” admitted Iolana. “I still wouldn’t have gone back though. I didn’t want to ruin Ascan’s life. He’s always had very strong feelings. He couldn’t help but have those strong feelings for me. Now that he assures me that we can never be more than friends, I know that the deep love and desire will stay focused on his late wife, where it should be. We can be good friends now.”
“If he could dismiss you so easily, maybe you’re just not as appealing as you think you are,” said Esther.
“Don’t be stupid.”